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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Underdogs Once Again

George Mason basketball won't have to worry about too much pressure being mounted on them anymore this year as they enter the weekend possibly playing their last games of the season. Mason is a long shot to enter to win the CAA tournament as a #6 seed and the media is jumping at the chance to call us the little school that could, back to being the underdogs again. It has bothered a lot of Mason fans including myself that our school has been ragged on all season because we did not have the stellar season these so-called experts were expecting even with the loss of three star seniors and added presure and exposure none of team was ready for. Wheres the criticism towards LSU, they were also in the Final Four last year and they are most likely going to miss the NCAA tournament too. Being from the #2 RPI conference in the league they definitely had an easier route in terms of scheduling and such while still returning a lot of key players from last years squad. But no lets pick on the mid-major, the team that has about half the resources as major schools and has to go on the road if it actually wants to play a quality non-conference schedule. Local major conference teams such as Maryland, GW and Georgetown you'd think would at least occasionally make a trip to the Patriot Center to get a solid road non-conference game, but they refuse. They figure they have nothing to gain and only a chance of being embarrassed. Major conference teams hold all the cards and a perfect example of this is Duke. They started off the season with 11 straight home games, 13 out of their 14 non-conference games were at home. What would Mason's record be right now if we had that many home games? I'm not saying Mason would be 25-4, but its something to think about it. This guy from Yahoo! sports gets it, why don't others?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dead or Alive

The regular season has come to an end for George Mason and they went out with one of the worst losses in Coach Larranaga's tenure. The final score against Northeastern saturday was 73-50 but trust me, it wasn't even that close. With this loss Mason broke its streak of 9 consecutive seasons with 10 or more conference wins. A streak that you often heard Larranaga boast about during interviews last March because Mason was one of only 8 teams in the entire country to maintain such a streak. It would was something that Mason fans could always count on but after failing to beat any of the top 4 teams in the CAA it was evident that this was a new dawn in the conference. OK, Campbell wasn't 100% but that doesn't explain Thomas scoring only 8 points and the team shooting below 40% from the free throw line. Mason played terrible defense against some of the Huskies better shooters, Bobby Kelly started off the game 5-5 from the field and him and Matt Janning were able to pull off three pointers with ease. Sound familiar? It became obvious in the 2nd half that Larranaga was going use his teams lackluster play as a chance to give a breather to most of his starters as no one played more than 25 minutes. None of the Patriots were able to reach double digits in points, even with most of the 2nd half being garbage time.

The CAA tournament begins this Friday and Mason will be a #6 seed playing #11 seed James Madison. The winner of this game will play #3 Hofstra on Saturday. What are Mason's chances? I would have had a much better opinion before watching the Northeastern game yesterday but I still think Mason has the best chance of the 5-12 seeds to make some noise. Although the team has been wildly inconsistent, its still a one and done tournament, something the Mason roster has more experience in and a lot of the other CAA don't. A good convincing win might be all the confidence a team needs to power its way to the finals. The CAA is probably the most competitive right now then its been in a long time as even bottom feeders UNCW and William and Mary have proven they can pull off some upsets this season against the big boys. The most important thing about the tournament is that its a fresh start for every team. Sure the top 4 seeds have a first round bye but the fact remains that everyone has a chance to win the tournament and earn that NCAA tournament auto bid.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Last Hurrah

Its was senior night in Fairfax, the last home game for a group that may have lacked star power but not determination against a weaker Georgia State team. Norwood, Burns, Konate, Thomas, and Monroe started; Charles Makings would have started but was a lost recently for the season with a torn ACL. A shame, I wanted to see his under-used swingman moves just one more time. Even if it wasn't senior night we still would have seen a different starting lineup due to that fact that Folarin Campbell was out with a strained hamstring and John Vaughan was suspended recently violating a team rule. Nothing to worry about to though, Vaughan will be back for the next game against Northeastern and Campbell might just sit out again to rest before the CAA tournament.

The Patriots looked like they were going to blow another 2nd half lead as a six-point halftime lead was turned into a five-point deficit. Jordan Carter was able to save the day late in the game with a clutch steal and layup, then a three-pointer from the corner to give Patriots the lead with less than three minutes remaining. Carter ended up with a career-high 14 points, and combined with Burns and Smith the trio was able to make 6 of 13 three-pointers. Will Thomas' services were not needed much but he still managed 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. The stat most exciting is his 6 assists, Thomas needs to help the guards make plays and set them up for shots like he did in this game for the Patriots to have a chance in the CAA tourney. The Patriots are still fighting for a 5th seed in the tournament with William & Mary, and needs them to lose on of their last two conference games.

With this victory the Patriots finish with a 7-6 home record, their worst since they went 4-8 back in 1998.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bracket Blunder

Last year at this time our showdown on ESPN's Bracketbuster Saturday was a defining game against fellow mid-major power Wichita State that helped give the Patriots some needed exposure and a "marquee win" to be considered for an at-large bid. This year our bracketbuster game was a reminder that not only can we not beat the top teams in our conference, but we can't beat top teams in other mid-major conferences either. This 6th home loss is nearly the amount of combined home losses the Patriots have had over the last four years. The game was shown on ESPN360, which is an internet TV station or something; it doesn't really matter because its not available anywhere except Alaska I think. Most of the Mason faithful was looking forward more to the tailgate party at Brion's Grille than the actual game as this years homecoming had a huge turn out. For some reason GMU decided to ban students and alumni from bringing their own alcohol to the tailgate festivities outside the Patriot Center. Usually this is the only fun you will ever have a GMU sponsored event on campus and yet they found a way to ruin it. The Patriots did play a hard fought game but were never able to get a lead greater than four points. But much like a lot of their previous losses there were unable to close the game out and let Kent State back into the game late as they were outscored 9-2 in the closing minutes. The Patriot guards went back to their cold shooting, Dre Smith had some nice three pointers in the first half than went 0 for 6 in the 2nd. Campbell and Vaughan both missed shots late in the game that would have given the Patriots a chance. Campbell injured his hamstring late in the game but it did not look too serious. Will Thomas had 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocked shots as he has been the teams MVP all season long. Monroe had 12 points and has been averaging about 11 over the last 5 games; a good sign for the future of this team. Tim Burns came off the bench and nailed back to back three pointers and energized the crowd but Patriots ended up committing three consecutive turnovers and missing 5 out their 6 last shots to close out the game. Thats just pathetic to lose like that at home, I don't know what else to say about it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Need of Some Love

In the midst of trying to avoid a four game CAA losing streak, Coach Larranaga has been seen in rare form, both on the sidelines and to the press. Poor conference play is never something Larranaga's teams are known for. A losing streak like this is something we haven't seen since Larranaga first came to Fairfax in 1997. The Patriots should be able to climb back and take outright possession of the #5 seed in the conference. After tonight in Delaware the last two CAA foes they face are Georgia State and Northeastern. Its hard to call any remaining games on the Patriots schedule "winnable" after the way things have gone this year. But these remaining CAA games might be just the kind of "tune-up" games the Patriots need to get things in order and finally get some stability before the conference tournament begins. The top 4 teams in the CAA have all had their struggles despite most still being mentioned as "bubble" teams for the NCAA tournament. ODU has seemed to be the strongest lately after knocking off Hofstra last night. The CAA tournament has a history of #1 seeds winning but this year it doesn't seem like things will be that easy for any of the top teams. Trust me, Larranaga knows this. What he doesn't know is if he will get strong guard play the rest of the season.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Playing for Pride

Coach Larranaga is steamed, Mason fans were chanting "Tony, Tony, Tony!" every time Loren Stokes touched the ball, Mason has lost consecutive home games for the first time in 5 years; all in all it was a sad day for Mason basketball. This is one of the rare moments where you will see Larranaga publicly showing his frustration with the team:
"They will see an entirely different side of me and my personality these next few weeks because these performances are totally unacceptable to me and our program."
This is something he should have said a while ago, because not much has changed in the way this team has been playing during the last couple of weeks. Larranaga should be pissed at this team, hes won a lot of Division I games with a lot less talent than this. I really don't think after last season the players would ever not listen to him, so whats the problem then? Its puzzling when you think of all the CAA games Coach L has won with squads that were never recruited by ACC or Big East schools, went up against Top 25 teams during the regular season or even played on national television. Maybe the hype of the season never really went away and pressure put on both Larranaga and the players was something they were just not ready to deal with. Understandable, but Larranaga needs to find a way to get through this, because having a losing conference record was not acceptable even 5 years ago.
"I don't know if our guys are feeling sorry for themselves, but I guarantee you there's nobody in our league feeling sorry for George Mason right now. Everybody's loving seeing us."
Heres a comment from Larranaga that probably best sums up why this season has gone bad. The players seems to be playing good enough defense to win, but they lack the confidence to hit shots on the other end. Are they feeling sorry for themselves? It sure seems like its something along those lines when you can see the hesitation before certain players take a shot.

This game seemed to be playing to Mason's pace in the first half, as things were slowed down, each team not shooting great. Mason was able to hold off the Pride and make them take shots they weren't comfortable with. Too bad this didn't really carry over to the second half. The were able to open the second half with a 13-4 run but stopped playing the kind of defense that kept them in the game earlier. Once again we saw a team rely heavily on low post scoring from Monroe and Thomas, which usually never equals a win for Mason. Campbell, Vaughan, and Smith need to drive through the lane more if they are not going to hit outside shots. Each of them either passed up opportunities or missed open shots too many times.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Running Rams

George Mason was not able to overcome a deficit this year in Richmond against the Rams. VCU opened with a 13-2 run but hey last year Mason came back from 17 points in the 2nd half. Not the case this time, as the Rams exploited Mason's poor guard play to earn their 13th conference win. Mason got another strong post game from both Thomas (17 pts 12 rebs) and Monroe (13 and 9), but it proved that without solid contributions from your guards your going to have trouble beating anyone. Teams that have trouble with Mason's post game usually focus on stopping it in the 2nd half, forcing guys like Campbell, Vaughan and Smith to make outside shots. No easy task for this Patriots squad. Will Thomas is going to get double doubles and Monroe is starting to consistently score along side him, but when Campbell and Vaughan go a combined 2-16 from the field Mason isn't going to win often. Jordan Carter needs to pick up more of the slack when Campbell has nights like this and not be afraid to shoot more. Carter is no floor general but he runs the offense well, often playing too unselfish.

Tomorrow's nationally televised game against Hofstra is a game that has lost some its luster but its still an important game for the Patriots. Can they start a run here and finish up strong before the CAA tournament? Mason had four players log 30 minutes or more against VCU and that could take its toll. The lack of depth on this team only adds to this problem along with injuries to Urbina and Fleming. Don't forget that Hofstra would like nothing more than to knock off the Patriots on ESPN after getting snubbed by the selection committee last March. I predict a close battle between these two squads and no groin punching this year.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Patriots Collapse in OT

In possibly the most disappointing loss in the season, George Mason collapsed against an ODU team they were leading almost the entire game, in front of a near sell out in Fairfax. This is Mason's 4th home loss this season, the most since 1998. The Patriots had trouble getting into a rhythm and had many chances to put away the Monarchs but just could not get more than a six point lead. Arnaud Dahi's three pointer at the buzzer sent the game into overtime leaving myself and the rest of the Patriot Center in utter silence. Mason did not score in overtime and looked like a defeated team even before the extra period started. How did this happen? Larranaga puts the blame on himself for not calling a timeout during the Monarchs comeback in the last 90 seconds. How could he make a mental mistake like that at this point in the season? But you can't put all the blame on the coach, Dahi made that three pointer while being wide open and after ODU had just missed an attempt then quickly rebounded it right back. At certain points in the game Folarin Campbell looked unstoppable on his way to 23 points, but Will Thomas was shut down for the most part and limited to only 7. This opened things up for Darryl Monroe who had his best game as a Patriot scoring 17. Monroe has drastically improved and looks a lot more comfortable out there. John Vaughan was back in the starting lineup and went 0 for 9 including an air ball layup in OT. Why he got 10 more minutes of playing time in this game over Dre Smith I'll never know. Here was a game where Mason was playing their brand of basketball by using their strong low post game to create opportunities and they were, but no one besides Campbell hit shots from outside. Vaughan, Smith, and Carter have all had their share of good shooting nights but they are all terribly inconsistent, putting more pressure on Campbell and Thomas. Their inconsistency makes Mason one dimensional on offense and easy to defend.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hot Hands

The roller coaster ride that is Mason basketball this season continued Wednesday night with an 89-59 victory over Delaware. This game was over at half time and will hopefully give fans some confidence about Saturdays showdown with ODU. The Patriots were able to shot 63% from the field as a result of great ball movement and feeding off the Will Thomas double teams. Thomas, who is currently ranked fourth in the nation in field goal percentage, continued his shooting streak going 5 for 5 while adding 14 points. Folarin Campbell and Dre Smith were a combined 7 for 9 from the three point line, impressive but can they do this against ODU? They were also able to get to the free throw all night, something we really have not seen much this season, and surprise surprise they blew out their opponent. Not getting enough trips to the free throw line is something that has really hurt Mason this year and its evident in some their bad losses thus far. Delaware dressed only 8 players, including an ex team manager from last season; too bad they don't have 4 more Herb Courtneys.

Although Delaware is not a strong team, its still worth noting that Mason was able to put up a season-high 89 points against a team that just knocked off 2nd place Hofstra on Monday. Another thing to take away from this game is the guard play from starters Carter and Smith. Jordan Carter has looked better running the point each game and rarely makes a mistake. Dre Smith has also looked a lot more confident and has cut back on some of the wild shots we saw earlier this season. The current starting lineup is starting to gel and will face another big test on Saturday where they will need to keep shooting well from the perimeter as Will Thomas will be a facing one of the better interior defenses in the CAA. If the Patriots can keep up this hot shooting and make other teams pay for doubling Thomas it will open things up and allow them to run the offense the way they want to. Thomas is averaging 14 ppg and 6.6 rpg while facing constant double and triple teams, imagine what he can do without this happening (think last years NCAA tournament).

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